Oral historian Elaine Eff interviewed Elsbeth Levy Bothe on September 14 and 21, and on October 22 2001 at her home in Baltimore, Maryland as part of the Weaving Women's Words project.
Early influences in Elsbeth Levy Bothe’s life included her extended Hamburger family and their retail men’s clothing business, and her attendance at the progressive Park School, from which she graduated in 1945. She describes how areas of Pikesville and Baltimore corresponded with religious affiliation and socio-economic status, and identified conflict between German and Russian Jews as more prominent than between Jews and non-Jews. She attended the University of Chicago, and describes the culture and political atmosphere of the school. She attended ETH [Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich—in German, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] in Zurich, Switzerland. She then worked at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, an AFL-Craft Union, although she did not enjoy it. She next worked at Locke Insulator Corporation, in the Employee Relations Department. She then started law school at the University of Maryland. She became involved with Americans for a Democratic Action and the United Automobile Workers, and met her husband, a United Automobile Workers employee who eventually became Regional Director, at a strike. In discussing her marriage with her non-Jewish husband, Bothe reveals her thoughts on intermarriage, as well as the social stigma at the time for an unmarried woman living with a man; she started living with Bert around 1952 and they got married around 1965. After graduating law school, Bothe worked for the Legal Aid Bureau of Baltimore. When she was fired, she went into practice with Bernard Link and Edward Mogowski, and it was when working with them that she got her big break in criminal law, the area in which she wanted to work. She also worked with ACLU [the American Civil Liberties Union], which led to her employment by Allan Merrill in the Public Defender's Office of Maryland. Bothe was active in the Civil Rights movement. Besides participating in sit-ins and other activities, she was a lawyer for the LCDC [Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee], a subset of ACLU. In that capacity she spent a couple of memorable summers in Mississippi, representing Civil Rights "violators." She was appointed to the bench in 1978 and presided over several important trials. The interview ends with Bothe discussing her love of skeletons and true crime books, and her life in retirement. The interview explores Bothe's conception of her own Jewish identity, and although Bothe disregards sexism as a barrier to her legal career, the interview also reveals the history of discrimination against women in the legal profession.
Elsbeth Bothe passed away on February 27, 2013.
In the early 2000s, the Jewish Women's Archive conducted oral history interviews with 30 Jewish women living in Baltimore and another 30 in Seattle. Born in the early decades of the 20th century, these women lived through decades of political, social, and economic upheaval, as well as dramatic changes in expectations and opportunities for women. Doctors and lawyers, teachers and saleswomen, judges and social workers, homemakers and community volunteers, the narrators represent a wide range of backgrounds, affiliations, and experiences of American Jewish women. To find out more and to see the online exhibits based on this project, visit Jewish Women's Archive/baltimore and Jewish Women's Archive/seattle
The complete audio recordings and transcripts of the interviews are available on the Internet Archive.
This project was made possible in part by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Brenda Brown Lipitz Rever Foundation, and the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, Inc. In Baltimore, the project was a collaboration with the Jewish Museum of Maryland; in Seattle, with the Museum of History and Industry.